The workshop of emotional well-being

Everyone should be able to live happier lives with smiles on their faces. To make such a future possible, Toyota Motor Corporation has set "Happiness for All" as its mission, and as a "Mobility Company," is taking on the challenge of creating a more mobile society and community, in addition to manufacturing cars. In order to take this challenge one step further, researchers from Toyota Motor Corporation's Frontier Research Center, Toyota Central R&D Labs., Inc., and Toyota Research Institute (TRI) will gather from 2021 to discuss "what is happiness?" and "what is well-being?" The "Emotional Well-Being Workshop" was established to discuss these questions that cannot be easily answered.

The term "well-being" is defined by the WHO as "a state of being physically, mentally, and socially all-rounded." However, since well-being is composed of various elements, each person's idea of well-being may refer to different things. Therefore, in this study group, we would like to first discuss well-being from various angles through dialogues with experts from various fields, and then share the details with not only us, the Toyota Group, but also with many more people, so that we can think about what we can do for the well-being of people living in our future society.

The First Workshop

In March 2022, the first workshop was held with the theme "Well-being from the Perspective of Diversity and Pluralism," from the viewpoint that "the diversity of people and society and the multi-dimensional ways of perceiving well-being are important for people's wellness." We invited Prof. Kunihiro Ohta, Executive Director and Vice President of the University of Tokyo, who is conducting research on biological genetics and genomics at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Prof. Miho Takahashi, who conducts research on clinical psychology at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Education, to give a lecture to the Toyota Group. This was followed by a panel discussion with Mr. Koga, CEO of Toyota Central R&D Labs., Inc. (who also serves as Director of Toyota Motor Corporation's Frontier Research Center), and Dr. Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (Toyota Motor Corporation. Chief Scientist and executive fellow). We would like to report on what we discussed in the workshop.

Is the Edge of Chaos the Key to Well-Being?

Prof. Ohta says that, to understand what well-being means to humans, there are hints in how to live through turbulent times from the perspective of the principle of pluralism, which living creatures use to sustainably survive.

Organisms living in conditions that are not necessarily ideal for survival have acquired resilience not by pursuing optimization, but by having diversity and play. And through surrendering to nature and accepting waste, they maintain robustness to survive, even when environmental changes occur. Prof. Ohta pointed out that a mono-poled approach is not sustainable in the long term, and the same is true for companies. Organisms evolve by using symbiosis and segregation to work and network with their environment.

The world of chess, sports, and other competitive games is similar to that of living organisms: if you stay in the safe zone without taking risks, you will gradually weaken. It is estimated that there are 8.7 million species of living organisms, but at the same time, extinctions are occurring, and new species must be created in order for organisms to continue to survive. Citing the Red Queen hypothesis that "we have to keep running as fast as we can to stay in place," he gave examples of past predicaments of mass extinction, such as the Cambrian explosion which occurred in the crisis of mass extinction.

For new patterns to emerge, it is best to be at the "edge of chaos," where there is neither too much nor too little order, and even for a company, the key to sustainability is the ability to create this situation. He concluded his presentation by saying that in order to adapt quickly to change, it is necessary to be prepared, and it is important to be aware of the edge of chaos and strive for coexistence and co-prosperity.

Prof. Kunihiro Ota, the University of Tokyo
Prof. Ohta's presentation "Well-Being from the View of Diversity of Life"

Developing Life Career Resilience

Prof. Takahashi, who herself works as an industrial counselor, pointed out that diversity may cause stress in communities due to the various interactions between cultural and individual differences and the different ways in which they are perceived. In teams in organizations, high diversity leads to innovation but also to conflict. This is why reflection and dialogue are important.

Prof. Takahashi proposes the concept of life career resilience, which means the ability to walk one's own path even when things do not go as one thinks they would in times of uncertainty, stating, "In my clinical experience, a common concern that appears is the inability to live as one wishes. There are moments when we realize that we are unhappy because we are stuck in something that we believe is the only way. It is important to have the will to make any choice proactively by ourselves."

Of the two modes of mind in mindfulness, "doing" is positive and productive, but it can be painful when it is the only mode that you are in, and it is like being on autopilot in which you are unaware. The other mode, "being," is a mode of feeling the present state, including the good and the bad. She pointed out that having this other axis helps to achieve balance, and that it is also important to intentionally switch to "doing."

When it comes to individuals and organizations, considering that a problem may not be an individual who is not doing well, but rather an organizational problem that shows up in the individual, can serve a preventative role in the workplace. Taking care of individuals means taking care of those around them, and eventually leads to increasing their productivity. She concluded her talk by saying that establishing a community that cares for each other is also useful for companies.

Prof. Miho Takahashi, the University of Tokyo
Prof. Takahashi's presentation "What is a Community with Diversity and Pluralism?―Clinical Psychology Perspective"

[English Translation]

Benefits and drawbacks of diversity

Low diversity
+ constructs norms and solves conflicts rapidly.
- may require an adaption.
High diversity
+ increases performance and generates innovations.
- causes conflicts in trying to understand each other.
prevents a consensus about tasks, works and roles.
Diversity =
Making the most of it as a resource for success
Minimizing the loss occurred by group's diversity
-> Necessity of reflection and dialogue

Well-Being in the Group

The panel discussion began with CEO Pratt's question, "Is it possible that the optimal solution for a group in biodiversity is not the optimal solution for an individual?" Prof. Ohta responded, "Both of them are important to be resilient. For companies, they should have multiple business plans." Prof. Takahashi commented, "Let's look at the situation where there are no negative things, rather than the situation where people think they are unhappy because they are not positive, such as not being able to do what they used to be able to do due to aging, etc. Organizations should understand and use what they have."

CEO Koga also raised the issue of "the edge of chaos," saying that there is a perfect state of balance between homogeneity and chaos, and that it would be desirable to have a state where the individual and the organization are not in conflict, but you can transition between them. In response, Prof. Ohta stated that although he himself is not living his life as he expected, he is trying to face changes in circumstances, and is gradually changing himself. Prof. Takahashi stated that it is important for people who have difficulty noticing the state of themselves and their organizations to pay attention to what they cannot notice, and to have others understand what those things are. She also mentioned that the organization's job is to make the best use of people like this.

Pannel discussion, The workshop of emotional well-being
Upper row: Prof. Takahashi (left), Prof. Ohta (center), CEO Pratt (TRI, right)
Lower row: CEO Koga (left), Dr. Muramoto, Toyota Central R&D Labs., Inc. (right, facilitator)

For next time

Prof. Ohta and Prof. Takahashi were professors in the biology and clinical psychology fields, respectively, that at first glance seemed to have little relationship. However, in discussing well-being from their perspectives, they also found common research questions related to diversity, inclusiveness, and other topics. For them as well, it was a stimulating discussion that provided each other with fresh perspectives.

Through this discussion, we learned the importance of diversity and that each person has a different idea of well-being, which may lead to well-being as a group.

At the same time, we discussed how well-being for different people may cause cases where they feel bad when they do not get what they want. We realized the importance of taking care of each other as a community in such cases.

We, Toyota, would like to continue this type of discussion with many people, starting with what we learned from this workshop. This would be a starting point to consider what Toyota can do for the well-being of people living in the present and future society. Please look forward to what the Emotional Well-Being Workshop has in store.

Contact Information (about this article)

Frontier Research Center